I talk a lot about compassion and empathy on this blog and sometimes it can be difficult as a parent or teacher to grasp how children can learn these values.
But one of the ways children learn best – at least I think so – is by actively putting the teaching into practice through a volunteer activity. And the best way to put compassion and empathy into practice is giving our youth opportunities to volunteer in our communities.
If you think your children may be too young, keep reading.
A study published by the University of Taxes at Austin titled The Future of Volunteering: Children Under the Age of 14 as Volunteers found that children (under the age of 14) are actually underutilized as a volunteer resource.
According to the researchers, children between the age of five and 14 benefit in a number of ways through their volunteer actions: Volunteering
- Promotes healthy lifestyle and choices.
- Enhances development.
- Teaches life skills.
- Encourages a lifelong service ethic.
As the report notes, “Volunteering is the perfect way for children to be welcomed as productive, active members of a community.”
There were a number of sobering statistics in this report, including the following:
- Children who volunteer are less likely to become involved in at-risk behaviors. A study conducted by the Search Institute, which examined 47,000 children between the fifth and 12th grades, found that just one hour or more a week of volunteer work was enough to prevent at-risk behaviors among children. The report cites the Children's Defense Fund report, which notes,
The experience gained through volunteering or service can make a lasting difference, giving young people a sense of purpose and a reason to remain in school, strive to learn, and avoid too-early-pregnancy (Benson & Roehlkepartain, 1993).
- A study by the National Assessment of Experiential capitation also conducted a study in which the group evaluated 27 programs including 40,000 students. That study found that children who volunteer experience enhanced psychological development, improved self-esteem, a greater sense of responsibility and a greater interest in learning. The University of Texas noted in its report:
Volunteering frequently expands an individual's intellectual capabilities because volunteer activities, often times, presents new material and opportunities to apply the newly learned material.
- Volunteer opportunities can nurture life skills and values in children. The University of Texas report noted that children who participate in volunteer activities are "rewarded" with new skills and perspectives.
- Volunteering as a child is a great way for children to feel welcomed as productive, active members of the community in which they live. Volunteering gives children the opportunity to contribute to a society that is forever changing. A report from the William T. Grant Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship noted this:
There is virtually no limit to what young people can do, no social need they cannot help meet, and giving young people the opportunities to serve enable them to become contributors, problem-solvers, and partners with adults in improving their communities and the and larger society (Benson & Roehlkepartain, 1993, pg 21).
- Perhaps one of the best reasons for involving your children in volunteer activities is that it encourages a lifelong service ethic. A study by the Effective Christian Education group found that the best predictors of adult involvement are their experiences volunteering with children between the ages of five and 12. And subsequent studies have shown that the earlier a child is involved in volunteering, the greater the likelihood that those children will volunteer again as adolescents.
Summer Volunteer Projects for Your Entire Family
If you feel stumped as to how to involve your children in volunteer activities this summer, here are just a few examples.
- Children are great volunteers at local senior centers they can help with reading, arts, and crafts or hanging out with seniors.
- Take your children to the local food bank where they can help to bag groceries.
- Join a creek cleaning crew or organize the neighborhood to pick up trash at your favorite park.
- Visit your local animal shelter where children can volunteer petting and hugging kittens and puppies.
- Teach your children about gardening while they grow a wildlife garden with you. You can check with the National Wildlife Foundation for its guidelines on making these cartons certifiable.
For additional ideas, check the Family Guide for Volunteering from PBS.
Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.